Monday, 6 July 2015

Time for nonsense in the drugs debate

`As the debate about so called legal highs rubbles on comparison is often made with the harmful effect of alcohol.  I will declare an interest, I do drink alcohol, but in moderation and infrequently.  Most weeks I probably don't drink, and those when I do it will be a couple of pints or a few glasses of wine or spirits, on one or two days so well within the recommended daily limits.

One 'fact' regularly trotted out is that alcohol is more harmful than other legal and illegal drugs and that it causes 100,000 deaths a year in the UK alone. However, when you try and find the source of this statistic or what alcohol related deaths mean in practice the story that emerges is some what different.

Lets look at Alcohol Concern - they say:

In 2012 there were 8,367  alcohol-related deaths in the UK (In 2013 it was a similar figure 8,416)
Around 63%  (5271) of all alcohol-related deaths in 2012 were caused by alcoholic liver disease
230 people were killed of drink driving accidents in 2012 (out of  9,930 casualties, 1200 of whom suffered serious injury).

How much is drunk by people in a typical week ? When questioned by a survey in 2012:
39% of adults drank no alcohol in the last week
28% of adults drank within the recommended daily amounts
16% drank over the recommended daily amount, but under twice the recommended daily amount
17% of adults drank more than twice the recommended amounts

In rough terms each 2% = 1 million people.

19 Million people drank no alcohol
13.5 Million people drank within the recommended limits
and about 8 million drank over the recommended, limits with another 8 million drinking more than twice the recommended limits.

I have no desire to understate the harm caused by alcohol - alcoholism and alcohol dependency are unpleasant and at time horrific.  The adverse effects of misuse of alcohol can be seen at alcohol concern from crime to ill health to damage to families, friends and society.  Liver disease is a slow and horrible death.

But in terms of users, there are around 30 million weekly alcohol users and 8,367 alcohol related deaths a year.  For illegal drugs, there are around 1,350,000 weekly users and around 2,000 deaths a year.     On these figures 1 in 675 illegal drug users will die, compared to 1 in 3586 alcohol users. Illegal drugs being 5-6 times more dangerous.   But its worse, people don't die to liver disease overnight, it takes years, whereas the long term health effects of most illegal drugs are unknown or haven't filtered through into deaths, yet.
Also most people who take illegal drugs also abuse alcohol.   So when people say - alcohol is worse than illegal drugs - the question is worse for who exactly ?

There were 1,957 deaths related to misuse of illicit drugs in 2014
A large 31% of adults say they have taken at some time an illegal drug, that's 15 million people across the UK. However, far from being a 'drugs culture'  12 million of those people no longer take illegal drugs. Of the 3 million who say they still do take illegal drugs, over half of them, 1,650,000 say they take them less than once a month.

Just 690,000 people take illegal drugs daily, 450,000 take them weekly and 210,000 monthly.

So we are left with just over a million people who take illegal drugs on a daily or weekly basis.

61 per cent of respondents who used illegal drugs in the last year used alcohol at the same time the last time they used drugs. Seven per cent of respondents who used drugs in the last year said that the last time they used drugs, they used more than one drug at the same time.

While smoking the occasional cannabis joint may be relatively low risk for most people, is there really a positive side to crack cocaine, Ketamine or crystal meth in any circumstances ?

The average smoker spends £76.73 on tobacco and the average drinker spends £54.58 per month on alcohol. Drug users who spend money on drugs claim an  average expenditure increases of £74.36. In addition to the money they spend on drugs, active drug users also spend significantly more than the national average on alcohol and tobacco products. 

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